Thursday, 30 June 2016

Movie Review: Red Heat (1988)

A prototypical buddy cop action movie, Red Heat is all about flying bullets, macho men and attempts at witty one-liners. Some of it works, but most of it doesn't.

In Moscow, Captain Ivan Danko (Arnold Schwarzenegger) tracks down lethal drug trafficker Viktor Rostavili (Ed O'Ross). The criminal escapes and lands in Chicago, where he establishes contact with local thugs and arranges for a major new drug deal. When Viktor is picked up for a minor traffic infraction by Detective Art Ridzik (Jim Belushi), Danko arrives from Moscow to escort the prisoner back to the Soviet Union. Nothing goes as planned, Viktor is soon loose and carnage is unleashed on the streets of Chicago.

Directed and co-written by Walter Hill, who helped invent the buddy cop movie in 48 Hrs., Red Heat is a generic example of the genre and offers an episodic, incomprehensible and generally irrelevant plot that serves no purpose other than moving the action from one set-piece to the next. A good portion of the film has characters speaking in Russian with no subtitles, and once the setting moves to Chicago, Hill's sole preoccupation is to create the opportunity for Danko's next one-liner and Ridzik's next snarky retort as they engage in firefights and running battles with the bad guys using progressively bigger machinery.

The action is of course over the top, the mayhem on a grand scale, as the pursuit of one man converts Chicago into a war zone. In his brief time in Chicago Viktor manages to both get married to dance instructor Catherine Manzetti (Gina Gershon) and antagonize a gang of heavily-armed black thugs, ensuring that Danko and Ridzik have plenty of reasons to pursue suspects and dodge high-calibre bullets. Somewhere in there Hill throws in a MacGuffin in the form of a locker key where a bag full of something important is locked up, triggering plenty of chases, threats and hissing matches.

Schwarzenegger as a straitlaced Soviet cop is more subdued and emotionless than usual, maintaining a fixed expression and monotone delivery of monosyllabic words. Belushi fills the gap with an over-animated take on cynical Chicago cop Ridzik. Peter Boyle and Laurence Fishburne are generally wasted in generic roles as Ridzik's superiors.

Ridzik: Well, tell me something, Captain. If you've got such a fucking paradise over there, how come you're up the same creek as we are with heroin and cocaine?
Danko: Chinese find way. Right after revolution, they round up all drug dealers, all drug addicts, take them to public square, and shoot them in back of head.
Ridzik: Ah, it'd never work here. Fucking politicians wouldn't go for it.
Danko: Shoot them first.

At no time does the film pause to take a breath, explain itself, or attempt to find any character depth, at least not in English. Red Heat tosses in a few good zingers and boasts reasonable production values, but while the temperature is high, there is nothing of substance in the oven.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Movie Review: Narrow Margin (1990)

A cramped action movie, Narrow Margin confines itself to a moving train and finds little traction in a contrived plot about a district attorney protecting a reluctant witness to a mob hit.

In Los Angeles, Carol Hunnicut (Anne Archer) meets lawyer Michael Tarlow (J.T. Walsh) for dinner on a blind date arranged by mutual friends. They are interrupted by mob boss Leo Watts (Harris Yulin), who confronts Tarlow about missing money. Leo's goon shoots and kills Tarlow, not knowing that Carol is a witness. She hurriedly leaves town and finds refuge in a remote cabin in Canada's wilderness.

Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) and Detective Dominick Benti (M. Emmet Walsh) track Carol down and try to convince her to return to Los Angeles to testify against Watts. But a mob hit squad is hot on Caulfield's trail and he has to spring into action to escape the flying bullets and save Carol's life. They jump on a train to Vancouver, triggering a long hide-and-seek game between Caulfeild and assorted henchmen.

Directed and written by Peter Hyams, Narrow Margin is a remake of a 1952 Richard Fleischer film. The modern take stumbles into a prolonged and unconvincing showdown on a slow train, as Caulfield bundles Carol from cabin to cabin and takes off to confront the bad guys in scenes with stale threats punctuated by implausible action.

It is quite clear early on that Caulfield can trust no one, the bad guys have infiltrated the district attorney's office and evil awaits at random stops along the way in the Canadian wilderness. The henchmen suffer from the common disease of instantaneous incompetence when provided with opportunities to finish the job. Caulfield predictably stays one step ahead of all his pursuers, although he too is capable of moronic moments that serve to prolong the chase and run down the clock towards the magical 90 minute mark.

Meanwhile, Carol is reduced to sitting in dark train cabins, staring out of the window and doing little until the next time Caulfield comes knocking on the door for another bout of wooden dialogue. Despite the scarcity of material, the script never takes a meaningful risk to delve into the characters beyond their superficial trappings.

In one of his weaker outings Hackman is not able to rise above the material and offers little to latch onto beyond the typical government agent following his own strong moral compass. Anne Archer fares worse, her 1980s hairdo not helping as she is confined to a static woman-needs-protection role. Neither witty nor entertaining, Narrow Margin is as dismal as its damsel in distress.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Movie Review: The Holiday (2006)

A Christmastime romantic comedy with two love stories unfolding simultaneously in London and Los Angeles, The Holiday offers soothing vanilla entertainment and achieves all its objectives in an attractive, star-filled package.

In London, the emotionally fragile Irene (Kate Winslet) works for the Telegraph newspaper and harbours a hopeless crush on work colleague Jasper (Rufus Sewell). He keeps her hanging as a side-interest while pursuing romance and marriage with another woman. In Los Angeles, the independent and confident but emotionally cold Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is a producer of movie trailers; she kicks out her live-in boyfriend Ethan (Edward Burns) once she discovers his infidelity. With Christmas approaching, both Irene and Amanda decide on a break. They connect online and agree to a two week house exchange.

Amanda is quickly lonely at Irene's small and quaint cottage in the English countryside, but her mood brightens considerably when the half-drunk Graham (Jude Law), Irene's brother, unexpectedly stumbles through the door. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles Irene meets her next door neighbour, the elderly Hollywood screenwriter Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach). She also connects with Miles (Jack Black), a film score composer. Amanda and Graham jump into a physical relationship before settling down to get to know each other, while Irene is more circumspect. She helps Arthur rediscover his passion while he helps to rebuild her self-esteem, and she starts to befriend the jovial Miles.

Directed and co-written by Nancy Meyers, The Holiday is an inoffensive and high quality double romantic comedy. Within the confines of the genre, the premise is reasonably fresh, the humour understated, the performances generally excellent, and the film oozes a rich syrup of distinction.

Meyers gains the bonus of two stories in one movie, and avoids many of the cringe inducing cliches that often plague romantic comedies. The Holiday has are no contrived misunderstandings and no sudden conflicts between the lovers that need to be resolved before the end credits. Instead the romance progressions are remarkably calm, and the film offers four mature, life-tested adults (and one older gentleman) grappling with disappointments, opportunities and affairs of the heart.

The film finds a few highlight gems. When Amanda decides to track down Graham at his house and uncovers his backstory, what she finds is a perfectly imperfect set-up. Graham is at once made more real and more complicated, offering much more than Amanda bargained for and redefining her parameters of what love can mean. The comedy highlight is a three-way overseas phone call with Iris discovering the hazards of call waiting while trying to simultaneously communicate with her brother and Amanda.

Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law deliver accomplished and committed performances, with Diaz perhaps emerging with the best glow and impeccable comic timing. Jack Black suffers in comparison and is often out his league, not helped by an underwritten role. Eli Wallach adds a potent shot of veteran talent, as his Arthur Abbott takes on the task of educating Irene about the power that resides within women through Hollywood's back catalogue.

At 15 minutes over two hours, the film is overlong, and suffers from a gloss that may be too shiny, situations and locales a little too perfect, and characters too likeable. But The Holiday is a greeting card of a film, the type that warms the heart and induces a smile when delivered with care and genuine affection.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Movie Review: High Anxiety (1977)

A parody of Alfred Hitchcock's signature films, High Anxiety stumbles and falls into low-brow comedy of the stupid kind.

The respected Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) arrives in Los Angeles to take over as the head of the Psycho Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. The previous head died under mysterious circumstances, and Richard soon encounters the weird characters who make up the hospital staff. Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) hisses evil and looks like death warmed over, the oily Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) is ambitious and incompetent, while Dr. Wentworth (Dick Van Patten) appears nervous enough to be a patient and is primed to be the next victim.

Thorndyke, who suffers from a fear of heights condition known as high anxiety, meets some of the patients and finds wealthy industrialist Arthur Brisbane (Charlie Callas) locked in his room, acting like a dog. On a trip to San Francisco to attend a conference, Thorndyke is approached by the icy blonde and breathless Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), Arthur's daughter, who wants to help her father. After a series of strange events, Thorndyke begins to suspect that the Institute is home to a nefarious conspiracy.

Directed, produced and co-written by Brooks, High Anxiety attempts to recreate the parody success of Young Frankenstein, this time by celebrating psychological suspense thrillers, but fails miserably. With a complete absence of ambiance, plot, or wit, Brooks defaults to lowest common denominator primitive humour, and the film collapses into a series of unrelated and entirely unsophisticated sketches.

Scenes that are meant to be funny depict a psychiatric patient acting like a dog; a murder committed by loud music; and secret sadomasochistic sessions at the institute. While the suspense genre relies on nuance, hints of danger and careful build-up, High Anxiety dispenses with anything resembling a deft touch and piles on the harsh juvenile antics, almost all of which fall flat, with many of the scenes unnecessarily extended in length to mask the absence of substance.

The references to Hitchcock are plenty, including the recreation of scenes and themes from North By Northwest, Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds, Dial M For Murder and Spellbound. The Psycho shower attack scene is telegraphed minutes in advance, but the execution is still clever. Perhaps the one good joke in the film riffs on The Birds, with the feathered critters finding a new way to take their revenge on humans. Otherwise Brooks and his team of three other writers are unable to weave anything resembling an actual story worth following, and High Anxiety defaults to a line-them-up-and knock-them-down series of obvious references to other films.

All the performances are ridiculously over the top, with Leachman particularly guilty of manic excess. High Anxiety attempts to salute the master of suspense, but delivers a heap of nonsense instead.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Movies Of Nancy Allen

All movies starring Nancy Allen and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

The Last Detail (1973)

Carrie (1976)

1941 (1979)

Blow Out (1981)

RoboCop (1987)

Out Of Sight (1998)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Friday, 24 June 2016

The Movies Of Carey Mulligan

All movies starring Carey Mulligan and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Public Enemies (2009)

Brothers (2009)

Drive (2011)

Shame (2011)

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Movie Review: The Getaway (1972)

An action film trading on star appeal, The Getaway offers reasonably slick and fast-paced entertainment, but all the stunts, squealing tires and shoot-outs cannot conceal the limited substance.

In Texas, prisoner Doc McCoy (Setve McQueen) is denied parole four years into serving a ten year sentence for armed robbery. Unable to tolerate life behind bars any longer, Doc instructs his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) to strike a deal at any price with sleazy businessman and master crime lord Jack Beynon (Ben Johnson). Beynon pays off the right people, Doc is released and Beynon connects him with hoodlums Rudy (Al Lettieri) and Frank (Bo Hopkins) to plan and execute a bank robbery.

The heist is messy and several dead bodies are left behind. Doc and Carol find themselves on the run with a bag full of $500,000, trying to make it to the Mexico border, with the authorities, a wounded Rudy, and Beynon's men all on their trail. Doc then uncovers a nasty secret that severely strains his relationship with Carol, while Rudy takes veterinarian Harold (Jack Dodson) and his wife Fran (Sally Struthers) hostage as he mounts his own chase for the stolen money.

Directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Walter Hill adapting a Jim Thompson book, The Getaway perfectly exploits McQueen's star wattage. A bad guy with good guy looks and less evil intent than all the other bad guys, Doc McCoy oozes McQueen's customary coolness. The film is more about watching McQueen slice through the Texas landscape with the company of a blazing shotgun and a smoldering MacGraw, and less about plot, character or context.

The actual events of the film are quite thin on the ground. The Getaway is a two hour post-hold-up chase, with plenty of padding and fairly ridiculous distractions. The supposedly sharp Carol allows herself to be duped by a rail station conman, triggering a long ordeal for Doc to regain control of the bag full of money. Meanwhile, Rudy's quest for revenge gets bogged down in a tiresome and ill-conceived attempt at dark and sexual humour with Harold, Fran and a pet cat.

But the action scenes are what matter, and Peckinpah conjures up some fine set-pieces. The bank hold-up and its immediate aftermath is tense mayhem, Doc and Carol tangle with the local police in a couple of small towns, they have to extract themselves from a truck full of garbage, and the final showdown at an El Paso hotel is a satisfyingly bullet-riddled conclusion to all the running around.

MacGraw and McQueen fell in love while filming, and while their is undoubted chemistry between them, the sparks cannot hide MacGraw's atrocious performance. Although Hill's script contrives to supply her with the worst lines, her wooden delivery and blank expressions expose a model trying to be an actress and failing miserably. Al Lettieri leaves an impression as the sweaty and unrelenting hoodlum who simply will not give up the chase, while Slim Pickens makes a late appearance near the border.

But with McQueen exuding his sizzling brand of dominant magnetism, The Getaway can get away with sub-par content in almost all other departments.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Movies Of Chris Pratt

All movies starring Chris Pratt and reviewed on the Ace Black Blog are linked below:

Bride Wars (2009)

Moneyball (2011)

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Her (2013)

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Passengers (2016)

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.
The Index of Movie Stars is here.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Movie Review: Executive Suite (1954)

A drama about a duel for dominance in the corporate boardroom, Executive Suite takes an admirably direct route towards its objectives, but in the process sacrifices character depth and elaboration on plot subtext.

In New York City, Avery Bullard, the President of large Pennsylvania-based furniture manufacturing firm Tredway Corporation, drops dead on the sidewalk. Avery never appointed a successor, and at the company headquarters office building a power struggle erupts as the Vice Presidents immediately start to manoeuvre themselves to succeed him.

The men in contention are the ambitious Finance chief Loren Shaw (Fredric March); the womanizing Sales VP Walter Dudley (Paul Douglas); the elderly Treasurer Frederick Alderson (Walter Pidgeon) who was closest to Bullard; the young and idealistic VP for Design and Development Don Walling (William Holden); and Jesse Grimm (Dean Jagger), VP for Manufacturing. Matters are complicated by majority shareholder Julia Tredway (Barbara Stanwyck), the daughter of the company's founder, and Board of Directors member George Caswell (Louis Calhern), who is looking to financially profit from Avery's unexpected death.

The women in the lives of the men are Don's wife Mary (June Allyson), who is urging her husband to quit Tredway and pursue his dreams away from corporate politics; Eva Bardeman (Shelley Winters), both secretary and mistress to Walter Dudley; and Erica Martin (Nina Foch), Avery's loyal secretary. As the Board of Directors gets to ready to meet and appoint a new President, Shaw pulls all the strings to try and control the outcome in his favour. But his uncompromising bottom-line focus does not sit well with Alderson and Walling, who start looking for an alternative, with unexpected results.

Directed by Robert Wise, Executive Suite is an almost mechanically-tuned examination of boardroom politics. The film is brisk and pointed, with the all-star cast in fine form. But the Ernest Lehman script is a bit too crowded with many similar middle-aged men, and a bare minimum of texture is offered to differentiate them. Tredway is plunged into a crisis, the power plays kick-off, and not enough breathing room is afforded for the men to establish who they are and why they may or may not deserve a promotion to the top chair.

Eventually Shaw emerges as the beady-eyed schemer and Don as the optimistic designer harbouring dreams of technical breakthroughs. Don gets the luxury of a family background to juggle with the unfolding workplace crisis, but the other men remain mostly office-dwelling creatures. The power struggle and tension builds to a nice sizzle, but the sub-plot involving Julia Tedway and her strained relationship with the deceased Avery never quite gains traction.

Executive Suite frequently circles the theme of driven men sacrificing everything, and mostly their families, for the sake of corporate ladder-climbing. The women are victims of neglect, pining either secretly or openly for attention that they will not receive. Later the film explores the still relevant conflict at the heart of company priorities in the age of shareholders demanding instant gratification. Short-termism competes with loftier ideals of longevity and quality that demand investment in research and development.

The stellar cast members share the screen time, with Fredric March leaving the biggest mark as Shaw schools his competitors in the art of backroom company politics. William Holden is less convincing as the waffling Walling, while the other actors are somewhat trapped in straightforward characters. Barbara Stanwyck adds some drama as the economically powerful but emotionally weak link to the company's past, but her character is susceptible to slipping into melodramatics all too quickly.

Dispassionate and cold, Executive Suite is as ruthlessly efficient as the business world it represents.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Movie Review: Fort Apache (1948)

A Western with an unbalanced mix of romance, humour and frontier action, Fort Apache eventually finds a purpose, but not before plenty of languid distractions.

Gruff and humourless Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) is the reluctant new commander at the remote Fort Apache, an appointment he perceives as a snub by the army. He is accompanied by his daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple), and she immediately sets her eyes on handsome and freshly minted Lieutenant Mickey O'Rourke (John Agar, Temple's real life husband at the time). The Fort's leadership group includes the pragmatic Captain Kirby York (John Wayne), Captain Sam Collingwood (George O'Brien), who shares a chequered service history with Thursday, and Sergeant Major Michael O'Rourke (Ward Bond), Mickey's proud father.

Thursday sets about to improve discipline among the men, while romance blossoms between Philadelphia and Mickey. The Fort's main purpose is to maintain peace with the local Apache tribe led by Conchise (Miguel Inclan), who has taken refuge in Mexico due to perceived treaty violations perpetrated by corrupt government agents in the form of Silas Meacham (Grant Withers). Thursday sees an opportunity to make a name for himself by subjugating Conchise, and embarks on a duplicitous approach very much against Captain York's principles.

Directed by John Ford, Fort Apache enjoys spectacular Monument Valley locations and interesting character dynamics. But the film is poorly paced and quick to stray onto tangents that serve no purpose. The main conflict resides between Thursday and York, and it takes too long for the tension between the two men to manifest itself in a meaningful way on the screen.

Ford and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent fall into several unfortunate traps. The worst scenes are ill-conceived attempts at slapstick humour involving new recruits and undisciplined soldiers (including an insufferable Victor McLaglan) who are in the army mostly for the liquor. There is also a doctor who does little except drink, and even an Irish song makes its way into the movie, as Ford slips into his "celebrate Ireland" mode to the detriment of the film. Scenes of dance banquets go on much longer than needed, as the running length unnecessarily creeps over two hours.

With all the distractions, the film takes an extended time to gain traction. The first hour is wholly concerned with Thursday taking command, the bland romance between Philadelphia and Michael, and routine life at the Fort. The film is already wilting in the desert sun, John Wayne's Captain York almost a nonexistent sideshow, before the Conchise story is introduced, and the conflict between the army and the Apaches is a hurried, under-developed narrative.

All of the shortcomings are a pity, because Fort Apache also offers plenty that is good. The film is sympathetic to the plight of the Indians, with Thursday firmly established as the antagonist with his uncompromising approach inconsistent with life both within and outside the fort's walls. When the conflict with Conchise finally takes centre stage, the film picks up considerably and the final 30 minutes finally find momentum. And despite the sloppy editing, the film presents an engaging view of life at a remote army facility, with wives taking a prominent role turning an outpost into a functioning village.

Henry Fonda enjoys an atypical role as the disciplinarian unable to modulate his approach to suit his current circumstance. John Wayne rises late to claim the moral high ground. Shirley Temple is radiant but also predictably flighty and flirty, quick to fall under the younger O'Rourke's shirtless spell.

Fort Apache meanders and then stumbles upon arrival, but when the dancing, romancing and witless humour are finally evicted, the film manages to offer patches of reasonable entertainment.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Movie Review: Love And Friendship (2016)

An adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Lady Susan, Love And Friendship rattles off long passages of dialogue in a series of confined settings as the protagonist tries to steer her life towards comfortable money. The film is static, stagey and unconvincing.

England, in the 1790s. Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is widowed and penniless. She is also conniving and desperate to find monied husbands for herself and her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Susan, whose one friend is transplanted American Alicia Johnson (ChloĆ« Sevigny), sets about winning the heart of her sister-in-law's younger brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), while trying to convince Frederica to accept the wedding proposal of the rich but stupid Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). The real prize, however, is the wealthy and powerful Mr. Manwaring, but he is already married to the increasingly frantic Lucy (Jenn Murray).

Directed and written by Whit Stillman, Love And Friendship gets bogged down with too many stuffy characters who have little to do except be victimized by Lady Susan's sharp wit. The film's comedy stems from the inherent, and sometimes explicit, stupidity of everyone except Susan, and once the pattern is set, the film sinks into a predictable downward spiral of Susan moving the chess pieces to checkmate all around her.

Some of the dialogue exchanges are witty, there are a few laughs, the costumes and hairstyles are lavish and Beckinsale radiates confidence. But the material is extremely thin, the various settings in London and the countryside estates are excuses to continue the same conversations within different indoor sets, and too often the scenes resemble readings of Austen's prose rather than acting. The film fundamentally fails to shift from a clever book to an engaging visual experience.

When it comes to Lady Susan, Love And Friendship are irrelevant; instead, her world is all about convenience and manipulation, and unfortunately her gamesmanship is also a crushing bore.

All Ace Black Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Movie Review: Sideways (2004)

A tender yet funny drama about middle-aged men dealing with life's disappointments, Sideways excels as a quest for joy when all options for happiness appear exhausted.

Failed writer Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a has-been actor, head out for a week-long trip to California's wine country to celebrate Jack's upcoming wedding to Christine. Miles is broke, lonely, and deeply depressed due to his divorce two years prior, and his lack of success in getting his book published. Meanwhile, Jack is not really sure he wants to get married, and is more interested in having sexual flings than tasting wine.

Miles and Jack settle at a motel amidst all the wineries. At the Hitching Post restaurant, they connect with waitress Maya (Virginia Madsen), who vaguely knows Miles from his previous trips and is herself nursing scars from a recent divorce. At a local winery, they also connect with server Stephanie (Sandra Oh), and Jack is immediately attracted to her. Miles and Maya start a tentative courtship based on their mutual love of wine, while Jack and Stephanie engage in a passionate affair. But with plenty of deception and half-truths generated by Jack's selective interpretation of the truth, trouble lies ahead for both men.

Written and directed by Alexander Payne, Sideways finds humour in the ordinariness of middle age pathos. The film honours the achievement of nothing where many men wallow, as both Miles and Jack have little to show for lives half lived except failed attempts at happiness and false expectations of a better future. The film stays focused on the men, their fading hopes and divergent attitudes towards the future, as Miles is weighed down by the past while Jack is intent on living for today.

Despite the odds they find suitable mates in wine country. Maya is just as emotionally scarred as Miles but is handling it better, while Stephanie is enjoying a life of carefree adventure. The relationships take on the colours of the men, as Miles and Maya proceed slowly and carefully, Jack and Stephanie rush into physical intimacy with wild abandon, and the outcomes carry echoes from the past into the future.

Payne's writing is stellar, and the film stands on the shoulders of the sturdy yet complex friendship Payne creates between Miles and Jack. Although a study in contrasts, the foundations of the relationship are clear: Miles is downbeat but smart, Jack is a dense optimist. They complement each other, and both are at crossroads in life where they need each other, warts and all. Miles needs Jack's encouragement to have any chance to move past his depression, and Jack needs Miles as a logic check against his impending marriage. Miles can't always trust himself because of his depression, and he wonders how much he can trust Jack, who is, after all, an actor, albeit a fading one.

The film uses wine as shorthand for depth of sophistication, if not exactly intellect. Wine is portrayed as a tragic ending worth celebrating, the more convoluted the plight of the fragile grape, the more worthwhile the taste. Wine and whine are also companions, Miles' endless laments about his failure in love, life and publishing matched only by his eloquent descriptions of all things related to wine and winemaking.

In the two lead role, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church create an enduring pair of friends. Giamatti has never been better, and in Miles finds the perfect role to suit his persona: cerebral but flawed and weighed down by luggage of his own making. Church is the perfect foil, and gives Jack a bounciness stemming from an inability to admit that with fading looks and creeping age, Jack's bright future as an actor is firmly behind him. Virginia Madsen turns Maya into a rich, complex red, while Sandra Oh mimics an in-your-face blast of popping champagne.

Sideways finds the sorrow and the laughs that come when forward momentum is well and truly lost, life starts drifting sideways, and it is suddenly apparent that for now, sideways is better than backwards.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Singles (1992)

A romantic comedy set at the peak of Seattle's grunge scene, Singles captures a unique moment in time and music, but is an otherwise unremarkable story of typical relationships among young adults.

The film focuses on the love lives of twentysomething friends living in and around a Seattle apartment rental block. Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) is an environmental activist. After getting burned by an affair with a duplicitous foreign student, she meets Steve (Campbell Scott), an engineer with the department of transportation also smarting from a recent breakup. They start a relationship that will have its fair share of unexpected ups and downs.

Meanwhile Steve's neighbour Janet (Bridget Fonda) is obsessed with musician Cliff (Matt Dillon), a member of the grunge band Citizen Dick. She wants to be dedicated to him, but Cliff is unsure he wants to commit to anyone, as his mediocre band struggles for a breakthrough. Also looking for a mate is Debbie (Sheila Kelley), who is friends with Steve and Janet. She decides to go the video dating route, and creates a video to try and find the perfect match.

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, Singles is more about mood, feel and music and less about plot and characters. The film is a celebration of a Seattle's unexpected moment in the spotlight of the music world, when grunge erupted as the sound of the day and bands went from underground to global stardom within months. The film features the music of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney among others, and band members, mostly before their fame, appear in supporting roles.

As for the relationship stories, they are simple and routine. Crowe's writing is not sharp enough to highlight any of the personalities, and the characters do not move beyond pleasant, generally inoffensive and only vaguely interesting. There is nothing wrong with the romance, comedy and frequent fourth wall breaks; there just isn't anything too compelling on offer, either. Crowe does earn points for keeping his characters deglamorized and refreshingly real, in keeping with grunge's no-frills blue collar aesthetic.

The ensemble cast does what is required, both Kyra Sedgwick and Bridget Fonda playing up the cutesy angle, while Campbell Scott downs in blandness. Matt Dillon as the generally clueless band leader of a mediocre band could have emerged with most distinction, but is given relatively little to do. His band Citizen Dick is a reminder that even in Seattle of 1992, that there were some grunge bands too crap to break out. Bill Pullman (a plastic surgeon), Tom Skerritt (Seattle's Mayor), Jeremy Piven (a store check-out clerk), Eric Stoltz (a random street mime), Victor Garber and Paul Giamatti all appear in small roles.

In addition to the music, Singles is most famous for possibly being the inspiration for the television series Friends. Regardless, the film is like a familiar friend: fun to hang out with, but not necessarily a sizzling experience.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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